By Lisa Flaugh (Fall 2016 Showcase)
The most miserable states in the country that hope to “Make America Great Again” have struggled for several years in areas of health, drugs and smoking, financial health, and crime according to a Gallup-Healthways poll. States in the Mid-West and in the South that voted for Donald Trump in this year’s presidential campaign have a history of being in the bottom 10 in an annual survey of the “most miserable states,” recorded since 2008 by Gallup-Healthways. Gallup then prepares a Well-Being Index every year to gauge happiness and health by state. Data shows that for the past several years, the most miserable states tend to stay in the bottom 10 rankings, and the happiest states tend to stay in the top 10.
For the past seven years West Virginia has ranked the worst in well-being with the same states repeatedly ranking in the lowest 10 in the well-being poll. These states are Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas, with Gallup-Healthways noting that “Well-being in the U.S. exhibits regional patterns” in its methodology.
The well being index accounts for several factors such as having supportive relationships, financial health, the ability to manage money, feeling safe in the community you live in, and physical health, which includes smoking and obesity rates, among other factors.
“You should note the income inequality in these states,” says Professor Deborah Popper, Professor Emerita of Geography, Political Science and Global Affairs at the College of Staten Island. Popper also is visiting professor of Environmental Studies at Princeton University in New Jersey. “These states, especially in Mississippi and West Virginia experience high income inequality.” Popper notes some distinct patterns in these states, and what makes some states happier and others miserable.
“What ties all of these states together, the high happiness and the low ones, is that they all have high gun ownership,” noted Popper. “The happier states also have access to more public land and easier access to recreation, as opposed to the others where public land is pretty low. In private land you still do have access to recreation, but it is in a different sense. The government isn’t encouraging you to get out and exercise and you are free to do what you want on the private land.”
Exit polls collected by CNN show that in the most miserable states, the same states that all went red for Trump, many people who voted for Trump felt that the economy was the most important issue facing the country and that the condition of the national economy was poor.
Voting history in these states show that since the Well-Being Index began in 2008, three major elections have also taken place, and data shows that those states in the bottom 10 tend to vote red. When President Barack Obama first ran in 2008, the exception was that Indiana and Ohio went blue, a rare occurrence for Indiana but the election data from the New York Times shows that Obama barely won Indiana with 49.9 percent of the votes vs. 49.0 percent of the votes going to John McCain. The remaining states, excluding the swing state of Ohio, safely voted for John McCain with the republican earning a much higher percentage of the votes.
In 2012, when Obama ran for re-election against Mitt Romney, every state that is in the bottom 10 of the Well-Being Index voted red, with the exception of the state of Ohio which went blue for Obama.
Finally, in 2016 in the election for Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton, all of those same states voted red, including Ohio. Even before the Gallup Poll started recording data in 2008, these same states voted red in 2000 in the election of George W. Bush vs. Al Gore and again in 2004 when Bush was up for re-election vs. John Kerry, with Ohio voting red for Bush in each election.
The same states that fall into the most miserable also are in the top 10 most obese states according to the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health. In 2015, the states that struggled with the highest obesity rates and also appeared in the lowest 10 in the Well-Being Index are Mississippi and West Virginia as the second biggest states (they were both tied at 35.6 percent of adults), Kentucky as the 5th biggest, Arkansas as the 6th biggest, Oklahoma as the 8th biggest and Missouri as the 10th biggest. (Indiana and Ohio fare better not falling into the list of the top 10 most obese states, with the most obese state being the worst in the country out of the list of 51 that includes Washington D.C
These same states struggle with the highest cigarette smoking rates, according to a Gallup poll that tracks smoking rates. Kentucky had the highest smoking rates in the country, followed by West Virginia and then, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Ohio, Missouri, and Indiana, in that order in 2014.
*Click Here for an interactive map with all the data together.*
Popper also notes that the states with high smoking rates are all states that are anti-regulation states. “Regulation is considered unnecessary,” she says. “So in these states, where prospects aren’t that great – low income inequality, lack of new industry coming into these states – why not smoke? These states are also common tobacco raising places.”
The states that tend to stay in the top 10 of the Healthways Well-Being Index are Hawaii, Alaska, Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming, and South Dakota. In all elections since 2000, Hawaii has voted blue, with the remaining states showing a mixture of red and blue. Colorado voted red for Bush in the early 2000’s, but has voted blue since Obama first ran in 2008. Alaska, Wyoming and Montana tend to vote red. These states also have the lowest obesity rates states, with Colorado being the least obese as of September 2016, with Hawaii as third lowest, and Montana the fourth lowest. Exit polls in Colorado show that those that voted for Trump felt that Immigration and terrorism were the most important issues facing the country, with the issue of the economy falling very low among those that were polled. (Exit polls were not collected in the other “happy states.”)
“What it comes down to is how leadership works and whether they are responding to the needs of the rest of the community,” continues Popper. “There are states in the happiest group that are red, and states in the lowest group that are red. It just comes down to leadership, and its what a lot of the worries are this year with this election we just had. Will the leadership respond to the needs of the country?”